How to be a better speaker
You can also hear this article as a podcast
Have you ever felt that fear when you’re asked to speak? Have you spent those evenings getting sweaty and tongue-tied trying to record videos of yourself and then deleting them all because you couldn’t get your words out? Have you ever hid in the bathroom before you are due to speak at an event, freaking out? If you have, then you are not on your own. Everyone who is a good (or even just competent) speaker has been through all this themselves – and that’s why they sound so good now. They have learnt lots of techniques and mechanisms by getting it wrong over and again and even if they look calm and collected on stage, you can be sure they still feel the nerves when they are doing an event. Because you need to be a little bit nervous to give a good presentation.
You owe it to your mission to become a better speaker
The reason that you should put yourself through all this and start speaking at events, or getting in front of the camera on social media, or even being a guest on people’s podcasts, is because ‘the mission’ is far more important than whatever nerves you might have about speaking. If we want to promote our businesses then we have to become the voice of our businesses. People connect far better with a company when they connect with the people who are at the centre of it. Apple would not have been as effective if Steve Jobs had never come out from behind his desk. Virgin would not have dominated so many different sectors if Richard Branson had not been willing to build a brand around himself. And both Steve Jobs and Richard Branson are extremely awkward people by nature; neither were born natural speakers but they both had passion and they both had things to say that people wanted to hear.
If you have a vegan business, then you owe it to the vegan cause to become better at speaking and communicating to reach a wider audience. And if your business has the potential to be the start of someone’s vegan journey, then you owe it to the animals to put aside all those excuses for not wanting to get in front of the camera and not wanting to get on that stage so that you can reach more people. The cause is bigger than your fears.
So how do we do this? How do you get past all those obstacles that are stopping you from getting in front of the camera or on the stage so that you can take your message to a wider audience? And once you do it, how can you get methodically better as a speaker? Well look at it this way – you actually want this to be hard! Because if something is hard to start doing then fewer of your competitors will be doing it, giving you a huge advantage over them.
And regardless of how you feel about speaking, getting started is easier than you think – no one is going to ask you to come on stage to speak in front of thousands of people for your first speaking gig. Someone who you might be listening to onstage is not there because they were born a natural speaker, they are up there because they had something worthwhile to say. And they started by learning how to say it to small groups of people first.
So, the first thing you need to do is to start saying what you have to say. Start small and share some unedited videos about what you think and what’s important to you. Use the throw-away opportunities that social gives us to start getting your thoughts in order and seeing how they land with people. Do it on social, do it on YouTube and get comfortable talking to the camera on your phone.
And doing this in a small and simple way isn’t just about getting visibility, it’s also about developing your ‘material’. If you hear the same person speaking at different events, or being interviewed on different podcasts, you will hear them tell the same stories and use the same examples and phrases. They know their story and they know how to tell it. They have practiced responses that trip off the tongue when they are asked a question. And the only way to have these is to have already spent a lot of time talking about your thoughts and working them out. Not in front of hundreds of people, but just in front of your phone or webcam.
So start now. Do it on social, do it on YouTube, do it at online networking events, so that when you are stood in front of a few hundred people you’ve already developed your own stock answers and really insightful thoughts. Get a friend or partner to start asking you questions and record the answers. As well as using it as an opportunity to work out your material and developing those stock phrases, it will also give you a lot of content to post at the same time!
Start to look for your first opportunities to speak
Once you’re getting comfortable talking about your views, start looking for those opportunities to speak. Start with small opportunities first, for example our Vegan Business Tribe member Shabari Das runs the World Vegan Market on Facebook, and if you take out a virtual Facebook stall with her then there’s also an opportunity for Shabari to interview you live on her Facebook page.
Many of our members have started out with an interview with Shabari as their first time in front of the camera. Shabari is genuinely interested in the people she interviews and is so full of positive energy that it’s hard to not just get carried along. But it’s also a brilliant first speaking experience: it’s online, Shabari is leading the conversation and you can’t see any of the people who are watching you!
Start to look for more of these smaller opportunities. Throw yourself into them and make all the mistakes you are definitely going to make while there are just a small number of people watching you. If a business group you belong to puts a call out for speakers then jump at the opportunity. If a vegan fair has an offer to upgrade your stall booking to include a short speakers slot then take it. The actual number of people watching you, especially in the early days, doesn’t matter. What matters is the experience – and the photographs!
The importance of photographs
If you share a photograph of you speaking at an event on social and LinkedIn, then more people will likely see the photo of you speaking than were in the audience on the day. And that is a critical part of becoming a speaker. To get invited to speak at events you have to become known as a ‘speaker’, and having a social media page full of pictures of you speaking and presenting at events means that you are obviously someone that people want to listen to. The more talks you give, and the more photos you share, then the easier it is to get speaking slots at bigger and more high-profile events.
Use your first smaller events to get bigger events. Play them up a little, make sure you’ve got someone in the audience to take photos and make sure everyone you know sees that you were asked to speak. Build your persona as someone who obviously has something interesting to say, else how would you have got booked to speak at all these events?
Are you doing this for your ego? No, not at all. Are you doing it to help your business, well yes… but more importantly you will be helping to further the vegan cause at the same time. A lot of the people you see speaking at the big food and drinks expos about vegan products are often not vegan themselves. They come from large non-vegan companies that happen to have a plant-based range. And although these people are usually really knowledgeable, they are not connected with the ethical side of the sector. They don’t highlight the consumers’ changing viewpoints on animal rights or talk about why we need to move to a fairer food system for the sake of those who die in it. We need people that understand both sides of the industry (the hard business side and the ethics) taking centre stage to help motivate more people to create better plant-based products.
You should be aiming to be that person in your industry. You want to be the person in your sector who is the expert in what you do, but who is also getting the informed vegan message out there. And if that means taking some very selective photos to crop out the fact that you only had a handful of people in the audience so that you get invited to those bigger speaking opportunities, then we’ll live with that!
The first time you watch yourself back it will be cringe-worthy. You might really struggle at the start, but the more you do it the easier it gets, and the more you will improve as a speaker.
Improving as a speaker
But it’s not all just smoke and mirrors. There is genuinely a lot you can do to learn to be a better speaker. Speaking and presenting is a skill like any other. The more you do it, and the more you practice it, the better you get at it. And this is why recording yourself and then watching or listening back to that recording is really important.
The first time you do this it will be cringe-worthy. You might really struggle at the start, but the more you do it the easier it gets. Don’t think of the person you are watching back as you; create a little bit of separation with that person so that you can be more critical without the personal cringe. Watching yourself back will highlight all the things that you do or say without realising. The same phrase that you start every single sentence with, or maybe you trail off all the time and never finish a sentence – or maybe you have a vocal tick that you never knew about. It will be embarrassing at first but you can’t improve without doing it.
You will also probably be speaking way too fast. Most of us don’t consciously control the speed at which we speak, your brain just throws thoughts at your mouth which is why most of us stumble over our words so much. But you can practice to bring down your words per minute, especially when presenting. Not only does speaking slower give your brain more time to create a sentence but it also makes you sound more professional too.
If you’re normally a fast speaker then it might feel like you are speaking comically slow, but listen back to yourself and you will be amazed at how much it improves your speaking style. To practice this, simply read out a script and see how many words you’ve read out in 60 seconds. That gives you your words per minute (or WPM). Keep slowing down until you get it down to about 120 or 130 words per minute and see what difference it makes. Or you might even want to slow down to 100 words per minute. If you are the kind of person who stumbles over their sentences all the time, then the solution is to just slow down.
Also remember that part of presenting is entertaining. Learn to be interesting to watch. Massively over-emphasise the things you say. Throw your arms about. Move around, become a bit of an entertainer when you speak. When you do it you will feel you are being too over the top, you will think you’re giving it ten out of ten on the performance scale! But it will likely come across as a four out of ten to your audience and you’ll see this when you watch yourself back.
Another tip is to practice and memorise both your intro and your outro, even if you’re using a script for your presentation. Knowing and being familiar with the first few lines you are going to say gives you a lot of confidence. The same for how you close your talk. When you get to your final slide or the end of an interview, you want to have your wrap-up memorised and well-practised so that you can confidently tell people where they can find out more about you and what their next step should be in contacting you or working with you.
And finally, go and watch the session that we recorded with one of our members Steven Trister, who is an ex stand-up comic turned speaking coach. Steven is really great at making you connect with the words you are actually saying so that you can say them in a more powerful way. Coaching like this genuinely helps – even just doing a couple of sessions with someone. And if you can find a vegan one like Steven Trister, then even better. And you will find the more you improve and the more public speaking you do, the more addictive it becomes, the more authority it will give you. And, if you have something interesting to say, then in the world we live in now you are only a few steps from going going viral on social media to headlining a conference!
A bullet point recap of what we’ve covered in this article:
Your mission is far bigger than your nerves about speaking. As a vegan business, it is your duty to get better at communicating to reach a bigger audience.
Tell yourself that it’s a good thing that it can be hard to get started, because that means most of your competitors won’t do it. You will be the one gaining all the visibility while they cannot get past the initial embarrassment.
Start small. Use social media and YouTube to work out your thoughts and to develop your ‘material’ before you start speaking to bigger audiences.
A good photo of you speaking at an event is likely more important than the presentation you do! Far more people will see the photo on social media than were in the audience at your talk, so use this to gain credibility and get invited to speak at bigger events.
Record yourself and watch it back. It will be cringe-worthy and difficult at first, but you’ll start to spot all your idiosyncrasies and know where to make changes – and you’ll vastly improve as a speaker because of it.
Learn to slow your speech down. Record and time yourself and see what a difference it makes when speaking at 120 or 140 words per minute instead of 180! Give your brain a chance to form full sentences.
Learn your intro and outro by heart. It gives you a lot of confidence when you know what the first words coming out of your mouth are going to be and how you are going to wrap up.
Go get some coaching. Even a couple of sessions from a professional speaking coach can make a huge difference.
Sign up to our mailing list...
Weeky guides, updates and interviews
Get our latest free guides and articles, as well as access to The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast.
Get special offers and invites to events
Be the first to hear about our special offers and receive invites to our events and seminars.
Be part of the Vegan Business Community
Sign-up as a full member to get full access to our community and support for your business.
Sign me up to your weekly email!
You have found your tribe...
If you have a vegan business (or just an idea for one!) then you have found your tribe. Get direct support, hundreds of hours of content and access to a community of hundreds of vegan business owners from around the world
Have a question about joining?